Universities set to lose first-class status

The Parks, in Oxford, regularly hosts an early-season first-class fixture between the MCCU side and a county Getty Images

The game between Oxford and Cambridge, which lays claim to be the oldest first-class fixture, is set to lose its first-class status after next year.

Once a major sporting and social highlight of the summer, the game between the two universities was moved away from Lord's in 2001, and has been played at The Parks or Fenner's since - though Lord's has continued to host a one-day game between them instead. Next summer's game in Oxford will be the 176th first-class match between the two.

The ECB are also set to confirm that while matches between the counties and university centres may continue after 2020, they will not have first-class status after next year.

The programme, most recently known as the MCCU scheme, was set up by Graeme Fowler, the former England opening batsman, to ensure aspiring young cricketers didn't have to choose between their education and a career in the game. Notable graduates include Andrew Strauss, Heather Knight, Monty Panesar, Sam Billings, Tammy Beaumont and Rory Burns.

It was announced in May 2018 that the MCC - who invested more than £7m into the scheme over a decade-and-a-half - would end their funding and that the ECB would take over the administration of the programme.

And while they insist it will continue, albeit with more of an emphasis on white-ball cricket, it is anticipated the funding will fall to somewhere around £50,000 a year for each of the six centres; not far short of half the level of funding the scheme once received.

Whether the programme continues to attract aspiring young cricketers - some of whom were lured by the prospect of first-class cricket - remains to be seen.

While counties have regularly used the early-season fixtures to blood young players, they have remained a useful shop window for university players. For example, Dan Douthwaite, a seam-bowling allrounder, was signed by Glamorgan for the 2019 season after scoring a 107-ball 100* against Sussex for Cardiff MCCU in April, and has been a regular in all formats since.